Laryngeal Paralysis in Dogs

Author: Dr. Jason Nicholas

Published: August 1, 2014

Updated: May 10, 2021

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old golden retriever with laryngeal paralysisDoes your dog roar?

This may seem like a weird question, but the answer is actually quite important.

Of course, I’m not talking about an actual “roar” like a lion does. I’m talking about a loud, raspy breathing pattern, which may indicate a common condition, especially in older dogs, called Laryngeal Paralysis (“LP” or “LarPar” for short) — a very serious, but correctable condition.

Some common signs of LarPar include:

  • Change in bark (more hoarse sounding)
  • Loud, raspy breathing noise, especially when breathing in — see this video example.
  • More easily “winded,” even following mild exertion or exercise
  • Frequent coughing or gagging

In normal canine anatomy, there are two pieces of cartilage that cover and protect the airway (trachea) from food, water, and other “non-air” items gaining access. In this respect, these two pieces of cartilage, the arytenoid cartilages, function like French doors, actively opening (abducting) when the dog breathes in, while actively closing (adducting) during swallowing.

In cases of Laryngeal Paralysis, one or both of the arytenoids fails to open fully during the breathing in (inspiratory) phase of respiration. This results in a much more narrow opening through which the dog can breathe - which, as you might suspect, is a serious problem. Which would you rather breathe through when snorkeling - a garden hose or a cocktail straw? You can think of dogs with LP constantly having to breathe through the straw.

Dogs with LP are at increased risk of a variety of conditions and complications, most notably:

  • Aspiration pneumonia
  • Respiratory distress and failure
  • Heat Stroke

If your dog is exhibiting any of these signs or you are otherwise concerned that your dog might have Laryngeal Paralysis, don’t hesitate to speak with your veterinarian. A diagnosis of LP can be made under mild sedation or when a dog is being induced for anesthesia (say, for a dental cleaning), where the function of arytenoid cartilages can be evaluated. If LP is confirmed, there is a surgical procedure that can help alleviate the signs, provide comfort and bring your dog an improved quality of life - it’s called a “tie-back” procedure. Speak to your veterinarian or a board-certified veterinary surgeon about it.

Dogs with Laryngeal Paralysis should never wear a neck collar (flat, Martingale, or other... especially a prong, choke, or electric), rather they should ideally be walked with the aid of a harness or even a head collar. Here's how to choose the right "collar" for your dog with laryngeal paralysis (and in most other situations).

For more information, please see this article about Laryngeal Paralysis in Dogs from the American College of Veterinary Surgeons.


About the author

Profile picture for Dr. Jason Nicholas

Dr. Jason Nicholas

Dr. Nicholas graduated with honors from The Royal Veterinary College in London, England and completed his Internship at the Animal Medical Center in New York City. He currently lives in the Pacific Northwest.

Dr. Nicholas spent many years as an emergency and general practice veterinarian obsessed with keeping pets safe and healthy. He is the author of Preventive Vet’s 101 Essential Tips book series.

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